In the new award-winning documentary, “Forget Me Not: Inclusion in the Classroom,”father and filmmaker Olivier Bernier and his wife Hilda turn the camera on themselves to follow their journey as their son Emilio with down syndrome prepares to start school.
You can watch the trailer here.
We were so lucky to sit down with Olivier to ask him some questions about parenthood and the lessons he has learned.
Daddy’s Digest: In terms of advocacy, how can new and expecting parents prepare themselves for the realities that come with advocating for your child (whether they have a disability or not)?
First off, it is important to realize that every child has challenges and every child is special. Nothing is “wrong” with your child. The challenges come from the fact that the world is not built to properly support them. That is where you come in as an advocate – you need to bend society into a place that gives your child the opportunity to succeed, however you define success.
“Don’t let people tell you it’s not possible”
Additionally, it is important to embrace the fact that in most school districts, getting your child what they deserve will be an uphill battle. Rest assured, it is a battle worth fighting, and in doing so, you are making the world a better place for all the children that will come after. Just keep in mind your long term goals for your child, what you believe will best prepare them for those goals, and trust your gut. Don’t let people tell you that it’s not possible. Instead, work collaboratively to figure out how to make it possible.
DD: How does having a child with a disability change the way you look at yourself and your own parents?
I think having a child shifts one’s perspective on a lot of things, especially your own parents, regardless of whether that child has a disability or not. For myself, when I was told that Emilio had Down syndrome, I realized that I had to unlearn a lot of misconceptions borne out of my own ignorance. When Emilio was just days old, and feeling completely unprepared to raise a child with Down syndrome, I asked my father, “What do I do? How can I be a good father for Emilio in the realities of today’s world?” My father’s answer was that I had to make Emilio strong and to give him the confidence he will need to achieve whatever he wants in life. In that moment, I realized how strong and resilient my own parents were and that I also had that strength because they had instilled it in me by being a living example. I hope I can be the same to Emilio.
DD: Why did you make a film? Has it been well received? What’s something that makes you know you’ve been successful?
Filmmaking is my passion and also my career. I believe that filmmaking is one of the most powerful forms of storytelling and that there is no better tool than storytelling to advance society. So I knew almost immediately after Emilio was born that I wanted to use the tools I have as a storyteller to make a little dent in the world for him. I didn’t know what shape that would take at the time but a couple years later we began to make Forget Me Not, and we went all in. I made the film as personal and raw as possible. I hoped at the time that by exposing our most vulnerable moments, we could shine a light on an issue that is too often left in the shadows.
Parents of kids with disabilities have gained strength from the film.
As more and more people share the film and we hear the feedback, we realize that we made the right choice. Parents of kids with disabilities have gained strength from the film. Parents of neurotypical children have learned what inclusive education is and how it can transform the classroom to be more effective for their own child. We are also seeing that the film has an effect on current and future educators that often do not have the experience of being on the other side of the table.
I hope that word of mouth awareness of the film continues to grow so that it brings the importance of ending segregation of children with disabilities to the forefront of people’s minds and gives a voice to people with disabilities.
DD: Tell us about the changes you want to see in the next 5 years? 10 years?
Perhaps the timeline is ambitious, but I would hope that in 5 years the IEP conversations shift from should a child be included to how do we best include a child. In 10 years, I would hope that “inclusive education” is no longer a term that we need to use because it has been normalized to the point where it is no longer exceptional.
This will require a new generation of teachers and administrators with better tools and open minds, but we will get there. There is no other option. The segregation of children with disabilities needs to be a thing of the past. We need to stop disenfranchising children from such a young age and instead tell them, “You belong.”
DD: What’s one thing you wish someone had told you about navigating a diagnosis, doctors appointments, seeing specialists for your child?
We are still learning everyday about Emilio’s challenges but perhaps the most important advice I ever received and wish I had embraced sooner is, “focus on his strengths.” Everything goes by so fast and if you spend too much time worrying about the future, you will miss all the beautiful moments right in front of you. Embrace and try to hold on to every moment because it is amazing.
You can watch the trailer here.